Monday, February 27, 2012

Serve Yavapai Celebrates AmeriCorps Week

Serve Yavapai, a partnership of Prescott College and Community Counts, will join the nationwide celebration of AmeriCorps Week, March 10th – March 16th. The week is a unique opportunity to spotlight the vital work done by AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps VISTA members in communities across the county since the national service program began 18 years ago.

“We are proud to be part of great work being done by volunteers all over this community and grateful for the AmeriCorps members who are getting things done,” said Margaret Garvey, Program Director of the Yavapai County VISTA Project at Prescott College. “AmeriCorps and VISTA members in Yavapai County have made a tremendous impact allowing us to extend our outreach and services by contributing over 55,000 hours of National service at over 20 different county entities and organizations this year,” said Margaret.

Since 1994, 775,000 men and women have joined AmeriCorps, and have given more than 1 billion hours of service to the country. To mark AmeriCorps Week, a number of events are happening around the county including a “Kick-Off Spring Break with Service!” a volunteer service project with Prescott Creeks on Monday, March 12th from 12:00pm to 4:00pm at Watson Woods Riparian Preserve.  The service project will be followed by lunch and games at Watson Lake. Community members are invited to participate in this event and should register at:

Additionally, the Retiree Connection, a project of Serve Yavapai, will hold a kick-off event to showcase our new streamlined process on Monday, March 12th from 9:30am to 11:30am at the Prescott Public Library in Founders Suite A & B. This event will outline how the Retiree Connection connects local organizations with talented, passionate volunteers through both updated technology and traditional one-on-one connections.  Retired community members seeking meaningful volunteer opportunities and local non-profit and service organizations seeking committed volunteers are encouraged to attend and learn how to become involved with this exciting program.  

AmeriCorps works with existing organizations and helps them reach more people and better achieve their mission. In 2011, the nation’s over 80,000 AmeriCorps members recruited 3.4 million community volunteers to serve alongside them in some 15,000 nonprofit, faith-based and community organizations across the country.

AmeriCorps members typically remain actively engaged in their communities once their service is complete. 
They not only can be counted on as volunteers, but they also run nonprofits, marshal resources within their communities to address difficult issues, and frequently pursue public service careers. AmeriCorps alums who have served with Serve Yavapai have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in public policy and social work, become an executive director of a youth center, teach students with special needs, and much, much more.

The Serve Yavapai Team!
Prescott College offers a resident B.A. program at its main campus in Prescott, Ariz., as well as low-residency B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degree programs through which students complete their studies in their home communities with the help of faculty mentors. All programs emphasize student-directed, experience-based learning by doing, environmental and cultural awareness, and social justice. More information is on the web at

Community Counts is an umbrella organization that establishes and manages community programs to help create nontraditional solutions to the unique challenges facing communities across Yavapai County. More information may be found at

Be great in your community!  Contact Erika Stone at (928) 515-4454 or

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Yavapai Reentry Project: Working to Stop the Revolving Door

I have a few quirks about myself—one of which I’m willing to share.  Escalators and automatic revolving doors terrify me.  Perhaps there was a 20/20 episode I watched in my childhood that caused this irrational fear; Barbara Walters staring at me through the glowing screen detailing the events of a child who was crushed between the wall and door of a revolving entrance.  Whatever the reason, I’m always worried about getting caught in the incessant mechanical movements of those machines.  This fear caused an essay from my Prison and Public Policy class in my freshman year of college to jump out at me, “The Revolving Door: Exploring Public Attitudes Toward Prisoner Reentry.”  Now, the core (somewhat illogical) reason this essay has stuck with me is irrelevant.  What the article actually states is just as scary to me.  This article brings together the discussions and opinions of three different focus groups, and asks them various questions regarding the prison system, prisoner reentry, and the barriers that exist for people with felony records.  When one focus group was asked about time being served, one woman complained about “shortening prison sentences”:

I think that the thing that gets frustrating is the judge hands down a sentence; you have five years in prison.  In 14 months that person is out.  Four or five years should be four of five years, and then you let the [out].  They should do the time.

What that woman displayed in her statement, and what exists in the United States as a whole, is a misconception of prisons, people with criminal records, and the justice system.  Realistically, if the person was sentenced for five years to prison and they are released early, they are still in the corrections system because they were released on parole or probation.  They still have to report to correctional employees, and can be sent back to prison in an instant.  These were some areas we studied in my class, but they have become even more apparent through my work with the Yavapai Reentry Project. 

The Yavapai Reentry Project began as a grassroots effort in 2010 when community members and professionals in the criminal justice field noticed a lack of resources for people returning to Yavapai County from prison.  Community Counts, a non-profit 501(c) 3, stepped up and funded the cost to hire an AmeriCorps VISTA (me!) to get the program started.   We contact every person being released from prison and returning to Yavapai County to let them know of our services.  We offer two programs, the Independent Referral Program, and the Community Coach Mentorship Program.  Both provide direct support, resource information, and barrier navigation for people with felony records.  Since beginning direct services in January 2012, the Yavapai Reentry Project has contacted over 120 inmates eligible for the program, provided direct services to dozens of reentering and former offenders, and has had 24 community members complete training to become Community Coaches to mentor a reentering person. 

What I have learned from meeting with people returning from prison, as well as studies and statistics, is that playful idioms such as “Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time” and “Prison is just three hots and a cot” oversimplify systemic issues that affect almost every area in our community.  Homelessness, public health issues, foster care and broken families, public safety, high rates of unemployment, and the need for government welfare are all impacted by incarceration and prisoner reentry.   The “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality behind incarceration causes people to fall into a cycle that is difficult to escape.  For example, did you know that:

VISTA member Becca Fealk serving
with Community Counts is helping launch the
Yavapai Reentry Project
·         In Arizona, employers can ask about arrests that never led to conviction and have that weigh in on the hiring decision.
·         Currently, 176 inmates are diagnosed with HIV, and 5,620 inmates are diagnosed with Hepatitis C, but with the current freeze on AHCCCS they have few options for healthcare when released.
·         In Arizona, 1 in 33 adults are under some kind of correctional control—meaning incarceration, probation, or parole.
·         In July 2010, 58% of the men and 69% of the women incarcerated at ADC were parents, meaning their children were either taken in by other family member or put in foster care.
·         The state raised the budget for prisons to over $1 billion for 2012.
·         75% of ADC inmates assessed at their intake have significant substance abuse histories, but struggle with getting treatment due to not having transportation and income upon release.
·         While Arizona’s population more than doubled between 1980 and 2008, the state’s prison population increased more than tenfold.
·         44.6% (17,821 of the 39,949) people incarcerated in ADC have served at least one prior sentence.

When people are released from prison, systematic barriers exist that make it more difficult for people to succeed.  In fact, a 2005 recidivism study done by the ADC, found that out of 54,660 people 42.4% returned to prison within three years of their releaseThe Yavapai Reentry Project works to connect people with substance abuse services, employment training, GED and college courses, and other basic needs to prevent them from going back to through the revolving door between prison and our community—and not just because I’m terrified of revolving doors.

The bi-monthly community meeting for the Yavapai Reentry Project is happening March 1st, 2012 from 10:00 to 11:30am at the Prescott Public Library.  We are looking for interested and invested community members to aid in forming committees for our program.  Committees will include housing, employment, volunteering, and more.  No experience is needed to attend the meeting or be a part of a committee, just a desire to help a person and improve safety in one’s community.  For questions, call Becca at (928) 708-0100.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In Their Shoes - Poverty Simulation for 40 Days of Peace

Yavapai County, AZ—Serve Yavapai, a collaboration of Prescott College and Community Counts, will join Catholic Charities, Coalition for Compassion and Justice, Prescott Area Women’s Shelter, Prescott United Methodist Church, and Sacred Heart Catholic Parish to bring the community together in an interactive event designed to help people better understand the realities of poverty. The poverty simulation, In Their Shoes, has participants role-play the lives of low-income families.  Some will be AHCCCS recipients, disabled, or senior citizens on Social Security.  They will have the stressful task of providing for basic necessities and shelter on a limited budget through interactions with human service agencies, bill collectors, job interviewers, police officers, and others.  Participants will also receive lunch and time to reflect upon their experience.  In Their Shoes will take place on Saturday February 25th, from 9am to 12pm at the Sacred Heart School Gymnasium, 150 Fleury Ave in Prescott.  The event is free and open to the public, however, space is limited so please call Catholic Charities at (928) 778-2531 to register.
This event will mark the end of the 40 Days of Peace, a nation-wide initiative led by Service for Peace. For 40 days, beginning with the Martin Luther King Holiday Jr. in 2012, individuals, families, and communities will focus on helping to start building a peaceful community.  This year, over 400 community members made a commitment to support the 40 Days of Peace.  In Their Shoes enables participants to discuss the potential for change within their local communities and create a broader awareness of poverty among policymakers, community leaders, and others.  City officials have been invited to participate and many have already made a commitment to attend.  “This event clearly speaks to Catholic Charities’ mission to advocate for our community’s most vulnerable, but it also contributes to the spirit of civic engagement that builds strong communities, promotes tolerance and increases our understanding of each other” says Haley Hyatt of Catholic Charities. 

Special thanks to our partner organizations and to Service for Peace.  For more information about Serve Yavapai, visit or contact Erika Stone at (928) 515 – 4454 or

Monday, February 13, 2012

VISTA Member Sarah Kolakowski Serves with People Who Care as the Nonprofit Turns Twenty!

This July, I drove to Arizona from a farm in New York to serve as the AmeriCorps VISTA
Member for People Who Care. I was welcomed into the People Who Care family and
AmeriCorps team with open arms. Before coming out here, I knew that the People Who Care
volunteers provided transportation to adults but I quickly learned that there was much more to the organization. I learned that our volunteers are the caring hands and heart of the community.

For those who don’t know, People Who Care coordinates volunteer assistance for adults who can no longer drive due to illness, disability or age-related issues. For twenty years, volunteers have genuinely cared for adults living in Prescott and Chino Valley so that they can continue to live independently and safely in their homes and our community.

People Who Care volunteers offer:
Every week, People Who Care volunteer Jeanne
(far right) goes shopping for Walter and his wife Violet.

• Transportation to essential medical and social service appointments.

• Assistance in the grocery store.

• Friendly visits and phone calls.

• Home safety checks.

• Minor home repairs.

• Assistance with personal paperwork.

• Caregiver relief.

In 1992, nearly 50 volunteers joined the People Who Care team and worked together to support more than 80 Neighbors (clients.) Twenty years later, more than 300 volunteers are actively going out into the community to help People Who Care continue to support over 400 Neighbors.  Imagine being part of a team that completed more than 10,000 services in our community last year!

Mel (right) has been volunteering with
People Who Care for more than 10 years, here
he's visiting with his friend and "Neighbor" Al.
I’m amazed to see how much the organization has grown over the past twenty years and excited to help People Who Care celebrate their ‘platinum anniversary.’ While I can’t reveal the exciting surprises that our Public Relations and Special Events Committee have in store, I can let you know that The City of Prescott will proclaim May 2nd, 2012 to be “PEOPLE WHO CARE DAY.”  I can’t even begin to express how appreciative I am for all the support People Who Care has received in the community. Thank you to everyone who has made these past twenty years such a success – here’s to twenty more years!

To learn more about People Who Care, please visit or call 445-2480 in Prescott or 636-3295 in Chino Valley.

Monday, February 6, 2012

VISTA Member Paul Gregory Wants You to Bowl for Kids Sake!

Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters is a donor and volunteer supported organization which has served the children of Yavapai County and Sedona since 1971.  It is my job to develop sustainable recruitment practices so that we may match our vulnerable children with a volunteer through one-to-one mentoring relationships.

AmeriCorps VISTA Member Paul Gregory serving
with  Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters
Research tells us that Big Brothers Big Sisters is the single most effective way to help vulnerable boys and girls be successful and reach their potential. Compared to their peers, boys and girls who are matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister are:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol
  • 52% less likely to skip school 
Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl For Kid’s Sake is the largest child campaign fundraiser in Yavapai County. It costs Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters $1,000 a year to prevent incarceration by matching a child. I have been speaking to organizations and businesses asking for them to put a few teams together. All bowlers will bowl two games; enjoy free pizza, soda, and free beer for those over the age of 21. I am especially interested in the awards! I believe I will be the number one contender for the “Most Gutterballs”. There will be other awards and I am really excited about seeing the large number of people who are taking the first “bowl” in changing a child’s life. There will also be awards such as, “Best Costume” and “Most Enthusiasm”. What better way to spend 2 hours than having fun and changing a child’s life! Please support this wonderful cause.

I encourage businesses and organizations to challenge each other. If your organization is interested in putting together a team, please call the Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters office for more information.

The most important thing to remember is, it is not about bowling, it is about making a difference in the lives of the children in your community. If you like to have fun, smile and laugh all while changing the life of a child please call our office today.

You don’t have to change your life to change a Little’s, simply ask for a few pledges and start changing a child’s life one “pin” at a time. For more information call Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters at 778-5135 or visit

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